I ended part one of ‘Home Stays and Takeaways‘ by saying I’d see you all on the other side, and whilst we’re not quite there, now seems to be a good to touch base once again. The world seems to be waking again from its enforced hibernation, slowly opening its eyes underneath protective plastic visors to a new way of life. The panic which defined much of April is now seemingly a calmer, more resolute May, where we find ourselves queuing patiently in all weathers like this pandemic is a crap theme park. It appears that less of the public are shitting themselves, though this may be due to an overabundance of loo roll in the average home and less to do with rational thinking. Rational thinking appears to have deserted us in favour of blaming everything on everyone else.

I make no apologies for saying that thus far lockdown life hasn’t been bad for me, and that’s not purely because I ate a box of Miss Macaroon’s finest with my face on. I could succumb to the layers of pessimism that seem to dominate my timeline at present but I won’t. At the time of writing, and despite his best efforts, my pensioner Dad is in good health. The same for my close family, my girlfriend, and my friends. I don’t need to speculate whether I have had it because I haven’t been tested and my Instagram stories aren’t that desperate yet, but I know fit and healthy people who have been seriously ill because of it. It’s a horrible, awful thing that needs to end soon. A feeling I also had after two episodes of White Lines on Netflix. We’ve kept our heads low, drank way too much wine, and done our best to maintain a level of normality. Which, in our world, means eating other people’s food a lot.

We have a weekly date night. We put on clothes (remember them?), clear the dining table, put music on, and open the nice wine we said we’d never open. The weekend after the last post we took delivery of Ox and Origin. The showpiece was an entire Tarte Tatin to finish, all bronze topped like Dominic Cummings’s bald bonce after a spin up the A1 for a nice leisurely stroll in the sun. We ate it and forgot about the world outside ours for a couple of hours. The same goes for a £95 Carters at home package which fed us for the weekend. Friday night was a kind of pre-cooked chicken salad that not even I could fuck up, the following night a behemoth piece of dairy cow which I very much did. It appears that the difference in temperature between 52 and 59 is a big one when cooking steak. Claire still ate it whilst I drank heavily and stared angrily at the plate. We took consolation the following day by putting the Carters remaining cheese sauce, pickles, and hot sauce onto a Fat Snags hotdog. It was every bit as mega as it sounds.

Tom Shepherd proved that one star cooking is still achievable at home with a three course meal via Sauce Supper Club. Silky spiced carrot veloute and beef shin ravioli to start, a main of pork belly with black pudding and cauliflower, then white chocolate pannacotta with strawberries. Bosh. We went to Pulperia for a Sunday roast of your dreams that washed the walls of our home with scents of thyme, garlic, and rendered pig. These don’t come cheap (£75 for 2×3 courses from Sauce, £45 for two from Pulperia) but they are an investment in your happiness if you can afford it. If you can’t I’d suggest ordering the char sui pork belly from Baked in Brick that is close to that of Ynyshir in style and flavour. This regularly serves me until Ynyshir finally start sending food out.

What does one drink with this I hear none of you ask? Everything. Regular orders from Couch have kept us ticking over on the cocktails, which we’ve topped up with drinks from 40 St Paul’s, Ox and Origin, and 18/81. I’ve started to enjoy a voyage into natural wines thanks to a sale and some very personal service from Wine Freedom. If, like me, you know nothing about natural wines, email or message Sam and Taylor with what you like and they’ll match it up. You should probably stay clear of phrases such as ‘crushed grapes’ and ‘Blossom Hill’ though. And speaking of personal service, I ordered a bottle of the excellent Staffordshire Gin and received it same day, which could have been down to many factors that I have narrowed down to my charm and beautiful good looks. A second bottle order which took five days to arrive confirmed this.

The reality is this isn’t going away for a while so it’s great to see businesses adapt with a new way of thinking. I’ve queued at Digbeth Dining Club’s new click and collect site in the Jewellery Quarter for a burger from Flying Cows, and used my exercise allowance to pick up groceries from Caneat and Laghi’s Deli. We made the genius idea to get bulk orders from Buddha Belly, had Otto, Hen and Chickens and OPM delivered to our door by men watching from afar for us to retrieve it, and had Sunday lunch put into the boot of the car by the team at Backyard Cafe. Desserts came by the way Bournville Waffle Company and Urban Cheesecake because we have excellent taste.

The best takeaway we’ve had is hopefully the same as yours. It’s the sense of community which has shone brightly through the bleakness. The acceptance that we are all in this together. The zoom calls and the quizzes and the messages off friends who are checking up on you, to the neighbours you see for two minutes every Thursday at 8pm. The little touches that make us human. We had curry from Umami up the road and had George & Helens heal my hangover by bringing chips back down it. I’ve had wine from my friend Jo, chocolates from Ben, bread from Jamie, spirits from both Nathan and Leo, and cocktails and cookies from the batshit Luco who lives too close for comfort. None have anything to offer during this pandemic other than friendship, and that has proved way more important than any meal.

I’ll finish this by taking it full circle to where the first part started; a minute’s walk away at The Plough. Back on March 20th the pub became a shell, it’s only life a homage to the NHS from local children in its window. It’s slowly reopening, first as a click and collect service, now doing coffee and cake to go every day. Two weeks ago we sat down and had burgers in our dining room. The food itself the same ridiculously high quality as ever, eaten by two people who wish they could be sitting in that pub at that very moment. This weekend I have pizza ordered. It’s not the same but it will more than do for now. We’ll all get there soon, the good times are returning.